Should Airports Tolerate Or Fight Panhandlers And Donation Seekers Inside The Terminal Building?


While visiting Kuala Lumpur Airport last week I became aware of a conversation taking part across from me where a young man approched a couple and was seeking donations for a charity.

The lady who was approached was a local Malaysian and took pictures of his materials the man presented to her as he was unable to produce identification or a license allowing him to be there.

Having this sort of thing going on in train stations and public places is rather common but I’ve seen an increase in panhandlers and donation seekers loitering around airport terminals, approaching passengers to ask for money.

Most likely these people haven’t received special permission from the airport authorities to be around and semi-harass the passengers who frequent the terminal. If this was the case then they would receive some sort of identification pass that they could show upon demand.

In this case the gentleman was asked to show a license or ID and he wasn’t able to produce it.

While some of these causes might be legitimate, people have very little chance to verify that on a moments notice which is why the best choice would be to have proper organizations that want to seek donations go through a proper approval and verification process with the airport authorities.

Such matter might be able to be handled in an ad hoc manner but panhandling in the U.S. has been subject to numerous lawsuits and constitutional challenges by religious organizations.

Back in 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that airports can ban panhandling but not forbid the distribution of literature after the Hare Krishna religious group (sect) worked it’s way through the courts.

You can find a related New York Times article here.

The Supreme Court today upheld the Port Authority’s ban on begging in the terminals of the three New York-area airports, but said the First Amendment gives people the right to hand out pamphlets and other literature there.

The split ruling, the result of shifting voting blocs and rationales within the Court, affirmed in both its aspects a decision last year by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan.

The decision today came in a 17-year-old lawsuit brought against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by members of the Hare Krishna movement, which requires adherents to solicit money and distribute literature as part of their religious mission. The Port Authority tried to ban both activities, beginning in the 1970’s.

In other countries airports are considered private property of the operator and airport management reserves the right to ban anyone they deem to  be disruptive outright.


I don’t like panhandling at places like airports and train stations. It’s adds another layer of harassment to the already charged environment of such facilities where people are on edge after being annoyed by long security and check-in lines.

There are always people outside the terminal at Los Angeles LAX Airport as well (especially TBIT) who ask people for money. This is a very negative first impression of foreign visitors who have other things on their mind than being asked for money right after their arrival.

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  • Gary

    Makes one wonder whom little Sebastian seeks compensation from when it happens to him. Does he demand a free shoeshine and complimentary baggage carts for life?

    • Christian

      An unbecoming response. I abhor panhandling, as even at its best, it’s demeaning for all parties involved. No need to throw out unwarranted insults.

      • Gary


        • JC

          Man, no offense but warranted or not, all your posts from the last 7 days say the same thing. Since the author’s name is clearly mentioned at the beginning of the post why keep reading?

  • John-in-Melbourne

    My word Sebastian, you are becoming just a bit too precious.

    This sort of thing, along with all the other annoyances, is part and parcel of travelling. It would be fair to say that none of us like this sort of thing. It’s just part of life’s rich pageant, and we all have to learn tolerance.

    Heaven help you if you ever go to Egypt, for example, the beggars in the streets, taxi drivers etc, will drive you demented.

    Grow up. Learn to say no politely, and walk away.

  • Owen Olsen

    Seb on this occasion raises a legitimate concern. I’ve worked as a volunteer charity worker collecting money for three major charities. I didn’t do it in public places, it was door-to-door, slightly different but I still had to be in people’s faces. I carried with me an official collection bag with logo etc., collection envelopes, missed-you slips etc., in the case no one was home, but above all I had to identify myself showing ID when door knocking. On a donation I would write out an official receipt for tax purposes and also so that I wouldn’t cheat the charity. To alert people the charity campaigns were also heavily advertised on TV and in the press. The charity business, if you want to call it that, is regulated. If not, it should. These people, if not there legally and on official business, should be banned. They are not only a nuisance but also give the legitimate charities a bad name. Authorities should definitely ban them from airports, railway and bus stations and anywhere else where travellers and tourists congregate. As for panhandling and begging in these places, definitely banned. My two cents worth.